Food prices are affecting restaurants, both in their costs and customers. So, they're getting creative in finding ways to cut costs and lure diners.
It pays to be aware of how these tactics can affect your own bottom line.
• Downsized portions. Some restaurants are moving away from the mega-meal concept and plating up less food for the money. Others offer a half-size option for a reduced price.
A case in point: A couple of weeks ago I took my two teenagers out to dinner at Red Lobster. I wanted to try the white chocolate tilapia dish that Utahn Kelsey Nixon created during her run on "The Next Food Network Star" reality series.
Since I'm not a tilapia fan, I ordered the $12.99 half-portion. It was comparable to the "deck of cards" serving that dietitians recommend. For a few dollars more I could have had the full size, but I walked away feeling perfectly satisfied, not stuffed. (By the way, the luscious sauce and crunchy macadamia nuts did a lot for the tilapia! I want to try it at home using salmon.)
The Mimi's Cafe restaurant chain now serves a "Just Enough" dinner menu, with smaller dishes that range from $8.29 to $11.49. The dinners came on the heels of the "Just Enough" lunch menu, which has been a hit with guests since it began in May.
Although it seem like restaurants would end up with smaller tabs, a lot of people add on extras, such as soup, salad or appetizers when they order smaller entrees.
• Less bread. While lunching at The Garden restaurant, our party noticed that instead of setting a basket of those famous Lion House rolls on the table, we were individually served a roll of our choice. It made us feel a little pampered, while limiting our bread consumption.
My kids noticed Red Lobster's cheddar biscuits were smaller than they remembered from our last visit a year or so ago. And the server brought them with our entrees, rather than with our salads. Was the timing intentional, to avoid refills?
With soaring flour prices, bottomless bread baskets could break the bank. I won't be surprised if more Mexican restaurants put the brakes on free chips and salsa, although a Tooele eatery my family visited a few weeks ago was generous with theirs.
• Sound bites. The Sun & Moon Cafe in Emigration Canyon has live music along with your meals on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It also hosts occasional concerts with nationally known performers, with a separate charge for the concert.
The Grand America hosts Summer Saturdays, with the Joshua Payne Trio providing smooth jazz on the patio. The $44 price includes a buffet with crab legs, sushi, grilled-to-order steaks and ribs, salads and a gourmet dessert bar.
"We get a fair amount of hotel guests, but we really want to bring in the locals," manager Mark Davies said.
Other places offering live music (usually just on weekends) are the Tin Angel, MacCool's, Lamb's and Pat's Barbecue, to name a few. Budget-minded diners can feel like they're getting entertainment for their dining dollars; they can skip the post-dinner movie.• Ingredient switches. I'm seeing salads with a higher ratio of iceberg lettuce to field greens, and Italian dishes with a little more mozzarella and less Parmesan. Also, I've noticed more extra charges. It wasn't until few weeks ago I realized some Subway store are charging 20 cents more to put spinach on sandwiches.